Man’s family seeks probe of death while in custody
NEW IBERIA (AP) — The family of a 22-year-old New Iberia man, whose death while in custody was ruled a suicide, has hired a lawyer who is asking the U.S. Justice Department to investigate the circumstances of the shooting that killed him.
At a press conference Wednesday, Monroe lawyer Carol Powell-Lexing blasted the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office, the coroner and Louisiana State Police for what she characterized as a “cover-up of police brutality.”
“We just totally can’t believe the coroner released such a bogus report that Victor White III killed himself,” Powell-Lexing said.
Coroner Dr. Carl Ditch’s autopsy shows White died at 1:13 a.m. March 3 of a single, point-blank gunshot through his lateral right chest in a suicide.
Ditch said White, who was handcuffed with his hands behind him in a police car, could have manipulated a handgun to the point of entry, which appears to be between his right breast and right armpit — based on the autopsy and a subsequent prepared statement.
“He is not Houdini,” Powell-Lexing said. “He is not David Copperfield nor is he a descendant of either.”
“There is no way on God’s green Earth that someone handcuffed behind his back can shoot himself through his chest,” she added.
The lawyer claimed she has evidence that sheriff’s deputies beat White when they arrested him for possession of narcotics following the report of a fight at 11:22 p.m. on March 2.
She identified the arresting officer as Justin Ortis and said his Facebook page, which includes a post justifying a photo of an officer slamming a man in a chokehold to the ground, indicates his violent character.
“He has already shown us on his website that he is a badass,” she said.
Powell-Lexing said there is a “rat to be smelled” in reference to state police claims the handgun used was not one used by Iberia sheriff’s deputies. She also accused investigators of taking too long to submit “crucial” evidence such as dashboard video camera recordings or simply ignoring tests such as those for gunpowder residue on one’s hands or arms.
“Everyone knows, the public knows police officers carry what are called ‘throw-down guns,’” she said.
Powell-Lexing said she has been in talks with the U.S. Department of Justice and is seeking an independent autopsy by famed New York pathologist Dr. Michael Baden, whose resume includes autopsies on President John F. Kennedy and, most recently, Michael Brown, an 18-year-old black teenager killed by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri.
After the press conference, Powell-Lexing suggested future public response could mirror the protesting in Ferguson following Brown’s killing.
“The country is in an uproar,” she said. “The country wants accountability.”
As for the state police investigation, public information officer Trooper Brooks David said he believes it will be finalized later this week and will be made public once investigators meet with the family and turn it over to the District Attorney’s Office for the parish.